A Recent Portrait of Her Majesty the Empress (Photo:Imperial Household Agency)
I am truly thankful to have reached my birthday in a safe and sound manner this year again. This year has turned out to be a year through which I have cast my thoughts deeply in particular to preciousness and dignity of life. This year has been an extremely heart-rending one to witness the world unexpectedly being faced with the enormous disaster of COVID-19 almost exactly one century after the Spanish influenza pandemic swept the world around the year 1920.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathies for the many people who have lost their lives around the world and in Japan due to COVID-19. It is truly painful to see the reality of the situation in which so many people at home and abroad are suffering from this infectious disease and passing away despite strenuous efforts to treat them.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere respect and appreciation to all medical workers who selflessly dedicate themselves in such circumstances day and night in order to save the lives of many patients and prevent the further spread of infections. Particularly imagining that in the early stages of the spread of the infections, all medical workers had to carry out their duties, regardless of their own safety, struggling with constant anxiety and pressure with no established methods of treatment and serious shortages of medical equipment such as protective clothing and masks, I am filled with deep admiration for their dedication and commitment.
In Japan, fortunately, the magnitude of the spread of infections has been contained to a certain extent, compared to other countries, without reaching to the explosive growth of infections. I am sincerely grateful for the situation which is to be attributed to insight and efforts of experts in infectious disease control, the initiatives of the central and local governments and a wide range of cooperation and tireless efforts of many people.
On the other hand, I am deeply pained to learn that many people are forced to be in difficult situations by business failure or dismissal as a result of profound impact on economic and social activities caused by the spread of infections. I am concerned about the prejudice and discrimination toward those who have been infected with the disease, medical workers and their families, and also worried about the possible increase of domestic violence and child abuse under continuing restrictive daily lives. Even though these problems are more likely to arise in the society encountering great disasters, it is my dearest wish that people will be able to spend their daily lives with peace of mind.
As for myself, I remain especially grateful for the warm congratulations I have received from many people throughout Japan since last year, and when I turn my thoughts to the current difficult situation in which the people find themselves, I feel very deeply that each and every one of the people is truly special to me and cannot help wishing for happiness of all of them. I can only imagine that in the midst of anxiety over infectious diseases the people have experienced various hardships and made numerous efforts in daily lives that are restrictive in many ways.
At the same time, hoping to better understand the situation in which people are experiencing suffering due to COVID-19 and extend our sympathy to those people, His Majesty and I have occasionally received lectures from experts in various fields and from those who have worked on various frontlines.
I have been able to hear about the situations directly from those who are working on the frontlines and advancing various efforts, including the environment and hardships faced by medical professionals, the situation surrounding the elderly and people with disabilities, the impact on vulnerable households that are more prone to social isolation, learning support activities for children from such household, and the situation at schools that are working to balance infection control with learning activities. While I can only imagine the worries that must beset the elderly and those with underlying disease in particular, I cannot help but admire great efforts made by those who support such people and also others who are socially vulnerable including those with disabilities, those in need and children.
At the same time, seeing that many people, including the young, have considered what they can in such circumstances and initiated new attempts and endeavours, I feel it is truly encouraging and heartwarming and strongly reminds me of the importance of human bonds.
I would like to express my deepest respect and gratitude to those who support and dedicate themselves in helping the people who are facing difficult situations.
At present, with the number of infected people and patients in serious conditions once again rising, the situation continues to be unpredictable. While it seems that with the development of vaccines we can see a glimmer of hope for overcoming the disease, many uncertainties may remain as to whether we can overcome the infections overnight. Under these circumstances, I sincerely hope that we should overcome the ordeal, remaining united, remembering to take care of each other, and reaching out to those who are suffering hardships.
Unfortunately, we have had natural disasters at home and abroad this year as well. In Japan, particularly it deeply saddened me that the torrential rain in July caused, mainly in Kumamoto prefecture, the loss of many lives and missing persons. In particular, it pained me that among those who have lost their lives many elderly people with disabilities were included. I would like to express my sincere condolences to those who have lost their lives, and extend my sympathies to the bereaved families and the people who were affected by the disaster. As the weather gets increasingly colder, I hope that all the people in the affected area, including those who are continuing to live in the evacuation facilities, take good care of themselves.
Also this year, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which many people were looking forward to, were postponed due to the spread of COVID-19. Considering that persons concerned and athletes, who have been dedicating themselves to realize the games, are required to continue to work hard, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the efforts of all those people involved.
On the other hand, we received the cheering news that the asteroid explorer Hayabusa 2 had safely returned from the asteroid Ryugu to close to the Earth, and that the re-entry capsule that is believed to have collected asteroid soil from Ryugu was successfully recovered. I highly admire the efforts made by the people involved in this project. Having learned that study and analysis of asteroid soil brought back by Hayabusa 2 are expected to open a new chapter on the science about the origin and evolution of the solar system as well as the origin of life on Earth, I am very much looking forward to the further development.
This year the spread of COVID-19 has brought about various changes in our official duties as well. Several events such as the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, which marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, and the ceremony to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the Diet took place with strictly restricted number of participants, and many events have been obliged to be postponed. Last month Rikkoshi-no-rei, Ceremonies for Proclamation of Crown Prince, were conducted with a fewer number of guests than originally planned. I was relieved to see the successful conclusion of major ceremonies and events relating to last year’s changing of the Imperial Era.
On the other hand, I regret that it has become difficult to interact with many of the people in person. Although currently it is difficult to make actual visits to various locations under these circumstances, we have recently paid virtual visits to those locations online. Last month, we had an opportunity to speak with members of staff who work at three of the main hospitals of the Japanese Red Cross, in addition to making an online visit to the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center. Also two weeks ago, we paid an online visit to celebrate Respect for the Aged Day, albeit a little belatedly, and enjoyed seeing the lively activities of the elderly people and it was a pleasure to chat with the people who had gathered there. I am most grateful that online visits provide us with precious opportunities to interact with the people, and would like to value such opportunities from now onwards.
His Majesty the Emperor has resumed his official duties such as ceremonies at the Imperial Palace since early summer. While His Majesty has remained busy with his daily schedules since then, I am truly grateful, above all, that His Majesty remains in good health.
This March Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and the Empress Emerita moved from Fukiage Imperial Palace to the Takanawa Imperial Residence. While I understand the situation surrounding COVID-19 makes it difficult for Their Majesties to pay a visit outside the residence, I sincerely hope they will take good care of themselves and enjoy healthy lives. I am also most profoundly grateful that Their Majesties are affectionately watching over us.
I am most grateful that I have successfully concluded the sericulture activities, which Her Majesty the Empress Emerita had passed down to me and I took the responsibility of for the first time this year, with assistance of those concerned. While during my working on the sericulture activities, my thoughts went to the various hardships that must have been experienced by sericulture farmers, I was deeply moved to see the beautiful raw silk thread that was spun from the cocoons created by the silkworms. While engaged in this activity, I am also most appreciative to Their Majesties the Emperor Emeritus and the Empress Emerita for warmly watching over my activities.
Aiko has enrolled in the freshman class of the Department of Japanese Language and Literature of the Faculty of Letters of Gakushuin University this year, and has recently turned nineteen years old. It fills me with emotion when I think about Aiko’s childhood days and that next year she will have reached adulthood.
She takes classes online, like many other students, due to the impact of COVID-19, which makes her busy in studying new fields, and it seems to me that she tries to cherish her life as a university student.
I hope that Aiko spend the final year of her teens in a rich and meaningful way, learning various thing from many people.
As the situation of the society and forms of our official duties have changed due to COVID-19, I have sought to fulfill my duties to the best of my ability while taking care of my health. I am deeply grateful to His Majesty for his constant care and attention to my health in my carrying out official duties. Bearing in mind the importance of His Majesty’s duties, I will continue to strive to further recover my health, so that I can be of assistance to His Majesty at his side and fulfill my duties as the Empress.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation for the warm wishes that the people of Japan have always extended to me.
Finally, hoping once again that COVID-19 will be fully contained, I sincerely hope that the people of Japan remain united and overcome this difficult situation.